05 November 2012 by Julienne du Toit

Dogs vs poachers

Singita private game reserve in the Sabi Sand area beside the Kruger National Park has turned to dogs to help fight the poachers who are after the region’s rhinos. K9, with its trained tracker dogs, is helping to guard these iconic members of the Big 5.

Rhinos at Singita are being protected dogs and handlers from K9 Conservation. Photo Chris Marais

In the Sabi Sand Reserve next to the Kruger National Park, dogs are being deployed to combat rhino poachers.

The initiative is backed by Singita private game reserve, which has brought in an organisation called K9 Conservation, which specialises in using dogs to counter the illegal wildlife trade.

K9 uses different breeds for different purposes. Weimaraners are natural hunters and so are excellent at tracking injured animals, or even humans who have been standing in or near animal remains. Belgian malinois and German shepherd dogs can be trained to ignore animals scents and to concentrate on following humans scents, and the smells of firearms, bullet casings and explosives, for that matter.

The biggest advantage of dogs is that they track using their keen sense of smell and thus are extremely effective – even tracking in pitch darkness.

The dogs and handlers check up on any unusual situations, like congregations of vultures that might indicate a kill. Animals and population numbers are being constantly monitored.

It’s an urgent situation. When this blog was posted, nearly 500 rhinos had been poached in South Africa since the beginning of the year. Nearly 300 of those were illegally killed in and around Kruger National Park.

The head guide at Singita, Mark Broodryk, explained why the dogs work well: ‘The biggest advantage of dogs is that they track using their keen sense of smell and thus are extremely effective – even tracking in pitch darkness. A major part of the success of the K9 operation is its presence in the area. It is difficult to quantify the "success" on paper, but just by them being here and operating in the area it seems to deter would-be poachers.'

According to Singita, once trained, the dogs are deployed into an area and the news quickly spreads among poachers and criminal syndicates, and the level and frequency of poaching incidents and related crime is shown to drop dramatically.

Weimaraners, German shepherds and Belgian malinois with K9 Conservation anti-poaching handlers. Photo Catherine Corrett

Category: Wildlife

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